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My options this morning were: 1) Go to the gym; 2) Stack firewood; 3) Clean house; 4) Have second cup of coffee while surfing the net. Guess which one I picked?

It’s day seven of the school year and the first morning I am alone. I spent the other six mornings in a whirlwind of friends and exercise and field trips (yes, they’ve already begun!), giddy and grateful that my three children were all off at school. Reveling in the long-awaited free mommy minutes, I was unprepared for the melancholy that sneaked up on me and which, even now, bleeds my joy. Adding generous helpings of spare time to my already full plate of responsibilities has been like Christmas dinner: fun to anticipate and delectable to the very last bite before the bloating begins and I realize with uncomfortable certainty that I’ve overindulged.

Our summer was of beaches and books, swimming and hiking, camps and playdates. Every moment that I was in motion, I dreamed of resting and yet, when I rested, I planned activities to keep us all in motion. In what seemed like the span between heartbeats, summer was over.

On his first day of Kindergarten, Small thumped down the stairs, more excited than nervous. He ignored the outfit I had laid out for him in favor of a generic football jersey and shorts. I said nothing, being thankful he was not wearing his favorite shirt: a navy button-down with thermal shirt-sleeves and a numbered patch on the chest. I call it the Shawshank shirt because it reminds me of prison garb. I hope it isn’t prophetic.

The house buzzed with energy emanating from the kids and surprisingly, from me. Putting out their breakfast, reminding them to wear their sneakers and not flip-flops, I fiercely told myself not to cry. I hate it when I cry. Not that there’s anything wrong with crying – it just doesn’t work for me. It probably has something to do with a repressed childhood memory but who knows? I haven’t had enough therapy to remember it.

Large went first, needing to take the early bus for middle schoolers. He burst through the storm door, cramming the last bit of an english muffin in his mouth. “HafagreatfirsdayinKinnergarden!” he called to Small over his shoulder. An hour later, the rest of us walked to the bus stop. Without looking at me, the OINKdaddy nudged my arm. I followed his gaze. Unprompted, Medium had put a reassuring hand on Small’s shoulder while we waited. This small kindness threatened the dam holding back my tears.

When I opened my eyes, the bus was roaring toward us. Brakes screeching, the yellow child compactor stopped. Small hefted his too-large backpack on his shoulders and trotted toward it without a backwards glance. The bus driver thoughtfully asked him to turn around at the top of the stairs so I could take his picture and – just like that – they were gone. My babies were gone.

I am so proud of my children. They are confident and independent and funny and loving and while they drive me to the edge of distraction (and over), more often than not, they amaze and delight me. I have been truly blessed to have had these two years at home with them. I’m not sure what the future will bring but I’m terribly glad that with this blog, I’ve kept a record of some of the special and some of the ordinary moments in our lives. Someday, I hope that Small, Medium and Large will read these words and be reminded just how much I love them.

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Yes, I’m a Harry Potter geek. I’m not going to apologize for it. If I could, I’d be going to the midnight viewing of HP7, part deux, but I digress. This rant is not about having to wait two whole days to get my HP fix. No, this morning’s tizzy is brought to you by Small and Large, children of modest intelligence possessing supremely selective hearing.

After a particularly fun and busy weekend filled with good friends, chainsaws, bikes and baseball games, our whole family has a “case of the Mondays.” Both of my boys realized they forgot essential equipment for their day while we were en route to their separate drop-off points. These concurrent memory lapses required me to turn the car around and go home to retrieve the items, wasting my time and two gallons of gas and putting us 20 minutes behind schedule. Adding to my stress was the fact that both boys were supposed to be dropped off at 9 a.m. at locations 4 miles apart.

I told Liam to tuck and roll when I threw him and his stuff out of the car. It was a gravel parking lot. I’m sure he’s just fine.

How’s your day going? Anything you’d like to rant about? Feel free to howl about it in the comments section.

This rant is from a friend in D.C.:

“Parents, please stop allowing your children to put their mouths on the railings when riding on the Metro. I barely want to sit on the seats fully clothed and I cannot even imagine the amount of germs partying on those railings and handlebars. Just saying…”

I wholly agree. Then again, if it keeps them quiet…

 

Family Portrait, minus Medium, on top of Snake Mountain

The OINKdaddy and I took Small and Large hiking on Snake Mountain – a 1.8 mile trail in Addison, Vt. – mainly because we had been promised a beautiful vista at the top. I don’t see the point in hiking if there’s no reward. Large tells me that I should appreciate “the journey” but it’s not in my nature. I’m all about the destination.

In spite of its name, we didn’t expect to actually see any snakes on the trail so when we did, it was like a special nature lover’s bonus: “Look kids – a garter snake! You can tell because it’s black with yellow stripes.” I encouraged the boys, including the OINKdaddy, to catch it (hells if I was going to do it myself!) but they weren’t fast enough. It was pretty obvious that none of us really wanted to catch the snake but since I don’t want Small and Large growing up afraid of snakes, I used the opportunity to share what little I know about snakes: 1) Poisonous snakes don’t live in northern Vermont, 2) The only venomous snake in Vermont is the Timber Rattler, which is brown, and 3) When you pick up a snake, you should grab it just behind its head.

It took us an hour, but we made it to the top where the view was simply stunning. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and nibbled gorp all the while enjoying a steady breeze and each others’ company. The return trip was a little less fun in that all of us were somewhat tired and Small was very so, and yet even when I was lugging 48 lbs of five year old I felt contented.

This feeling of contentment lasted until we arrived at home and discovered something had taken up residence (or was at least visiting) our garage:

Scary-looking, Potentially Child-eating Snake

“There’s a big snake in the garage!” yelled the OINKdaddy as he jumped back from the open garage door. Not that a three foot long brown snake could ever have startled my virile, strong husband. In retrospect, I’m certain he was simply passing along helpful information along the lines of, “Careful not to step on the big-ass snake when you come inside.”

“Stop messing around!” I yelled back, grinning a little. What a jokester.

My smile dimmed immediately when I realized he wasn’t joking. Ahh, the irony of returning from a lovely hike on Snake Mountain to find a large brown snake I have never seen the likes of before almost inside my house!

I’m not afraid of snakes per se, but I wouldn’t choose to cuddle with one either. I’m pretty sure the OINKdaddy feels the same or thereabouts. Together, we stared at the cold-blooded vermin as it coiled and uncoiled next to the sidewalk chalk. In that moment not one, single educational thought went through my head. “Get rid of it!” I said.

Now, the OINKdaddy’s a catch and release kind of guy while I’m more of a killer. In the fifteen years that we’ve been together, this not-so-subtle difference has been the genesis for more than a few healthy discussions. Live and let live is his motto, while mine is more like sometimes a round-headed shovel is a good problem solver. What can I say? Opposites attract.

“Maybe I can scoop it up,” he mused.

“Just kill it.”

“What could I use?” He cast around for an appropriate scooping device.

“Kill it! Just kill it!”

I imagined the thing slithering off into the dark recesses of the garage, safe from the threat of either relocation or death. I pictured it striking an unsuspecting ankle or an inquisitive hand. This was not a moth or a spider or a chipmunk. This was a big, brown snake and I did NOT want it anywhere near me or my kids. So, I did the only thing I could do – what any mother would do. I went after the snake.

My subconscious must have balked at perpetrating violence in front of the kids. Almost of their own accord, my hands selected the snow shovel over the spade. My hastily formed plan of attack was to shoo the thing out into the open at which point, I hoped the OINKdaddy would take over. I hopped around trying to push the snake outside. It didn’t want to go. It moved sideways, quickly. I hopped around some more, knocking over bikes and toys and helmets in the process, and yelled. I don’t actually remember what I was yelling but when questioned later, Large said I was screaming, “Agh! Agh! NOT helping Brendan! Brendan, help me!”

Upon realizing that the children were becoming more scared of the unholy scene their mother was making than they were by the sight of the actual snake, OINKdaddy grabbed the shovel and stunned the thing with a good whack. I reached for the spade before it could get away and with one slice, it was done.

Except it wasn’t. The damn thing did what I’ve seen chickens do after their heads have been cut off (I swear I do not have a secret hobby of killing small animals. My friend’s father raised chickens for their meat when I was growing up and I was at her house on chicken killing day. I was assigned the task of feather plucking – a smelly, messy job if ever there was one.). The headless body writhed and coiled and twitched while next to it, the disembodied head continued to thrust its forked tongue (I never saw the chicken heads move; this must be something particular to snakes). I shrieked, the kids shrieked and the OINKdaddy, well, he was convinced that the snake was still alive. This horror show went on for a good five minutes while the OINKdaddy and I argued whether to cut the snake into smaller pieces (my idea) or to drown the headless body (his idea). Eventually, the snake did us all a favor and finally looked dead.

Better Off Dead

I was in the shower trying to let go of my guilt over having traumatized my children when I heard the OINKdaddy open the door. “Just so you know,” he said, “it looks like you killed a Gray Rat Snake, which is a protected species. There are only a few of them left in Vermont.”

“What?!?”

He laughed. “I’ll bring the kids to visit you in jail.”

Would Indiana Jones have said this? I think not.

P.S. If you can identify this snake, please do so. I believe it is a milksnake which is a common snake, not protected. Cross your fingers!

So excited! An essay of mine was published by Kids VT newspaper. It’s a personal essay, which made it harder to write; for all that I maintain a public blog, there are just some things that I am relatively private about. Like my last name. And what I look like. And the size of the bag I carry my childhood memories in. But I’m going to share it all with you, anyway, in spite of myself. Here’s a teaser. As long as you are not a psychopathic stalker, go ahead and follow the link to read the whole story. Comments are welcome! You just have to come back to OINKtales to post them. 😉

My son Henry and I were waiting in the Costco checkout line, having loaded up on paper products, laundry detergent and fruit that had probably spent more time in a refrigerated compartment than growing on a tree. Two Asian children in the cart next to ours eyed Henry and the hunk of muffin he was clutching in his 5-year old fist. One of them pointed at him and said something to a man I assumed was her father in a language other than English.

Henry’s brow furrowed, then he jerked his thumb at the family and announced loudly enough for everyone within 10 feet of us to hear: “They’re talking in Chinese. They’re not from here.”

(Click to keep reading!)

Thanks Kids VT, for giving me this opportunity, and a special shout out to Cathy Resmer who is a gifted editor and likable to boot.

I love watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS. It’s amazing to me what people keep in their homes. Ugly lamps, god awful vases, knick-knack-brick-a-brack…you name it and there’s someone out there collecting it. But my favorite episodes are the ones where somebody brings in a garage sale find – a painting, say – that turns out to be an emerging work of so-and-so which is now worth $100,000. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to be as lucky as the guy who paid $45 for Ansel Adams negatives worth $200 million?

My mother found a painting nestled between boxes of china and unused racquetball rackets in her garage. She knew the artist personally and so, she had kept it safe – if forgotten – for over 20 years. Deciding she was ready to part with it, she had it framed and gave it to the OINKdaddy as a Father’s Day gift. Here it is:

Van Gogh? Hell, no.

This, dear readers, is acrylic paint on generic art paper. And it’s from my high school days.

I labored over this painting like none other. The assignment was to paint a famous photograph. The photo, by Eve Arnold, showed a Mongolian girl training a horse to lie down in battle. I was taken with this photo partly because I was a horse girl through and through, but mostly because my horse had to be put down.

My father met Vernon in the driveway when he came in the backhoe to dig the hole in our pasture. It was my father, not me, who led her emphysema-wracked frame to the edge of the grave. He was there to steady her when Freddy raised the gun to shoot. It was he, not I, who held back tears in front of the men.

I was touched that my mother had kept this painting all these years. “I just remembered how you loved that horse,” she told me. “We were all so sad when it was time for her to go.”

But, now, what to do with this painting? As a piece of my history, it’s priceless. As a piece of art, it sucks. I can’t throw it away but neither can I display it.

Fifty years from now, when Small, Medium and Large are cleaning out my effects, they are going to find this thing. They’ll say: “Hey, look at this! Think it’s worth anything?” Maybe they’ll take it to the Roadshow.

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